These are two different responses I wrote for a class on missions. The first looks briefy at how the theme of the nations drives throughout the Bible. The second answers the question, “Is it necessary for someone to hear the gospel to get saved?” I hope both are an encouragement to you!
God’s Pursuit of the Nations’ Gladness in Him
God’s plan for the nations begins as early as Genesis 1:1. The self-sufficient God, who exists eternally in the Godhead, decided to create out of the overflow of His satisfaction in Himself. From the beginning, the purpose of this creation was the reflection of His character and the worship of His glory. The Fall introduces a perversion of God’s design for mankind and sin enters, pervasively into mankind. Genesis 10 gives the “table of nations,” leading into the Tower of Babel narrative in Genesis 12. Human sin has lead to a type of punishment by diversity, God created many tongues as a result of their attempt to become God. Genesis 12:1-9 shows God’s sovereign plan to turn the evil of Babel into a display of His own glory. He covenants with Abraham to make a people for Himself from the offspring of Abraham. Through this line, the the nations will be blessed.
Exodus sees the forming of the nation of Israel. God has his mind set on two horizons, to quote Zane Pratt. The giving of the Law distinguishes Israel as God’s redeemed people who are to be holy as their God is holy. This distinct people, however, has its eyes on the nations as well. The Law had benefits for the Gentile and the stranger built in. Israel was redeemed to show the worth of God among unworthy sinners to the nations. Deuteronomy gives us a “come and see” mission strategy.
The prophets build even more on God’s plan for the nations. They see the widening of God’s soteriological blessing coming with the Day of the Lord. Joel prophesies in Joel 2:28-29 that the Spirit of God will be poured out on “all flesh.” Habbakuk proclaims in Habbakuk 2:14 that the knowledge of God’s glory would be as extensive as the waters cover the sea. God speaks through Zephaniah saying that He will one day turn the nations’ sinful lips into “pure speech,” that which utters praises to the Holy One of Israel.
The Psalms also speak to God’s intention to save a people from all the nations. In Psalm 2:12, the Davidic King is shown to be far more than a tribal deity. He is the ruler of all flesh, not just Israel! Psalm 47 commands the peoples to shout praises to the God of the universe. Psalm 67 petitions God to let the nations be glad in Him and Him alone, to be satisfied in His holiness as their highest good and pleasure.
This sets the stage for the New Testament and the coming of Christ. Matthew’s genealogy includes Rahab and Tamar, two gentile women. Early on in all of the gospels, we see Gentiles being among those who come in faith to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. The woman at the well (John 4:7) and Centurion are both examples of Gentiles who saw the glory of Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the earth. The Pharisess sought their righteousness in part by their having Abraham as their father. But Jesus says that children of Abraham can be made out of nothing, pointing to the fact that being a child of Abraham was a matter of being born again believers in the person and work of Christ. The gospel of Matthew ends with the “Great Commission” found in Matthew 28:16-20. Jesus’ parting words to His disciples was for them to testify to the gospel of free grace, making disciples of “all nations.”
The book of Acts shows the spread of this gospel to the nations. The disciples are promised the coming Spirit in Acts 1:8. Pentecost comes in Acts 2 and sinful men are made able to worship God in their hearts and with their members just like Joel promised years before. Acts 8 chronicles Phillip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. The gospel is spreading all over despite intense persecution (Acts 8:1). The church’s main threat is made its greatest earthen vessel when Paul is brought to saving faith in Acts 9. Free from sin and self, Paul makes it his life’s work to proclaim Christ to the Gentiles.
Paul picks this theme up in his letters. Just one example is the entire book of Romans. Paul makes it clear that it is his hope to travel as far west as Spain so that he can proclaim the gospel there (Romans 15:20-33). The masterful letter to the Romans may well be the first missionary support letter!
The biblical theme of the nations comes to a head in Revelation 5 and 7. One day, a people will assembly around the throne of God, those who have been ransomed from God and to God, a people whose white-hot worship will endure for all eternity. And this people is a people made up of people from every tribe, tongue and nation. The effects of Babel have been made to serve the purpose of the Sovereign Lord. Eternity with Christ will not be theological diverse but it will be ethnically diverse – comprised of people made new by the good news of how a holy God saves unholy sinners.
Does Everyone Have to Hear the Gospel to Be Saved?
Explicit faith in the person and work of Christ is absolutely essential to salvation. Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth and the life” and “no one comes to the Father except” through Him (John 14:6-7). The problem of sin and God’s wrath towards our sin is a real objective problem. To be saved is to have this real problem dealt with on our behalf. All of God’s promises are “yes and amen” in Jesus Christ (2 Cor 1:12). There is only one name under heaven by which we may be saved and that is the name of Jesus Christ, who came in history to reconcile us to the Father by His penal, subsitutionary death on the cross.
Paul eliminates any doubt about the need for explicit saving faith in Christ in Romans 10. For the last 9 chapters, Paul had been saying out His glorious gospel. All men are rebels, haters of the glory of God. This has resulted in the just wrath of God. Christ has come to fulfill the Law on our behalf and to take the curse of the Law that we deserved from the Father. His resurrection for our justification proves that His work was sufficient and accepted by the Father on our behalf. The Spirit is in the business of applying what the Father planned and the Son accomplished. Romans 10:13 says that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Salvation only comes by conversion, turning away from sin towards superior joy in Christ and resting in His work for our right standing before God. This cannot happen if they don’t hear because faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ (10:17). People cannot be saved by a message they have never heard, and they will never hear if no one preaches to them (10:14-16). The world will perish for their unbelief and rebellion. Taking the gospel to them is the only way for them to see and savor Christ clothed in the gospel. As David Platt puts it, “There is no plan B.”
Quickly, there is a larger issue in this question. If one says that explicit faith in Christ is not necessary to be saved then they have missed the entire essence of salvation. God saves sinners because He loves them but that is only penultimate in His plan. God loves us most by enjoying Himself, exalting Himself. God has chosen to satisfy a people with and that He is for them in Christ to show that He only is holy and worthy of praise. Salvation, then, has its final end in the glory of God. Salvation meets a real need, even if that need is not yet felt. We need to treasure Christ above all things. We have not but Christ did for us. Now that we are born again, the Spirit’s work continues to be the glorification of Christ (John 16:14). Explicit faith in Christ is necessary because the enjoyment of Christ to the praise of God’s glory is the highest goal of salvation. Eternal life is knowing the Father and the Son whom He sent (John 17:25). Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 16:35) and He only can satisfy the hearts of men. The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever. This is the chief reason that hearing the gospel of what God has done in Christ to save sinners must happen if anyone is to be saved. A Christ that is not named cannot be known or treasured! May the nations be glad in Him alone!